As the Supreme Court prepares to take up the constitutionality of the national health care reform law this week, on the two-year anniversary of its passage, millions of Americans are already reaping its benefits. For the goal of health care reform to be fully realized, state lawmakers need to do their part by creating a health care exchange so even more New Yorkers can access better care.
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have have questioned the law's constitutionality and painted it as a "government takeover" and "socialized medicine."
They're missing what's happening around dinner tables, in college dorms and in hospital waiting rooms. Families are finally breathing easier because their loved ones are getting the care they need — regardless of college graduation or pre-existing condition.
Since the enactment of the health care reform bill, 2.5 million young adults under the age of 26 have been allowed to stay on their parents' health plans, protecting them from falling into debt. In New York alone, 150,428 young adults are benefiting.
And the federal law has begun to address the pernicious health care disparities facing communities of color. Minorities account for more than half the nation's uninsured, despite making up just a third of the U.S. population.
So far, 1.3 million racial and ethnic minorities have gained coverage because of the law: approximately 736,000 Latinos, 410,000 African-Americans, 97,000 Asian-Americans, and 29,000 Native Americans. Thanks to what's become known as Obamacare, these communities will now be able to get timely treatment for many preventable illnesses that disproportionately affect minority and low-income populations — diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke, for example. It also increases funding for community health centers that serve communities that often have limited access to health care.
For seniors, the health care reform bill improves Medicare in two significant ways. First, all of New York's 2 million Medicare enrollees now get access to free preventive services such as colonoscopies and mammograms. Second, seniors on Medicare Part D get prescription drug discounts when they hit the "donut hole" coverage gap.
For the 16 million New Yorkers already benefiting from the bill, there's a lot to be thankful for on the anniversary of its passage. But for the goal of expanding health care access to be fully realized, Albany lawmakers need to get past their differences and create an exchange where individual consumers and small businesses can easily compare rates and shop for coverage. By forcing insurers to compete for our business, the legislature would improve a notoriously dysfunctional system and transform the health care industry.
The resulting competition will lower premiums for those individuals and small businesses who buy insurance directly from the insurance companies, helping to create jobs and increase access to quality health care.
George Gresham is president of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.
Times Union: http://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/For-state-health-care-fair-exchange-needed-3433839.php